MADISON (AP) – The state legislative primaries were supposed to crystallize who’s on the ballot this November. But they muddied the waters.
Four of the 33 primary races Tuesday were too close to call, including a race in a key Senate district that could determine whether Democrats have a shot at retaking the chamber in the Nov. 4 general election.
As of early Wednesday morning, unofficial returns showed Jonathan Brostoff leading Marina Dimitrijevic in a Democratic primary to determine who wins the 19th Assembly District in Milwaukee. Molly McGartland was leading Mike Pierce in a Republican primary for the right to take on incumbent Democratic Christine Sinicki in southeastern Wisconsin’s 20th Assembly District.
Leon Hebert led Herschel Brodkey in a Republican primary to determine who will take on incumbent Democrat Andy Jorgensen in far southern Wisconsin’s 43rd Assembly District. And Ernie Wittwer was leading Pat Bomhack in a Democratic primary in southwestern Wisconsin’s 17th Senate District for the right to face state Rep. Howard Marklein for the open seat.
Republicans went into election season with an overwhelming 60-39 majority in the state Assembly, which means Democrats have little hope of retaking that chamber in November. But the Senate is a different story.
The majority in the Senate has flipped three times in recent years, with Republicans taking control in 2010, Democrats winning it back briefly in 2012 through recall elections over Gov. Scott Walker’s law stripping public workers of most union rights and the GOP taking it again in the November 2012 elections.
Democrats see an opportunity again this year. The GOP holds a slim 17-15 majority. One Republican seat is vacant and three other Republican incumbents are calling it quits. Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, resigned in June to take over as president of the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association. Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, isn’t eligible to run for re-election because he’s running for Congress. Senate President Michael Ellis is retiring when his term ends in December after a videographer released a hidden-camera tape of Ellis talking about setting up a super PAC, a violation of campaign law. There weren’t primaries in any of those seats Tuesday.
Democrats’ plans for the Senate start with the 17th District.
Incumbent Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, a moderate who cast the lone GOP Senate vote against Walker’s union law, decided to retire after his term ends in December, leaving his seat up for grabs. The district is one of the few still seen as competitive after Republican lawmakers redrew district boundaries three years ago. The winner of the Bomhack-Wittwer clash will face Republican state Rep. Howard Marklein in the general election.
“This district is the keystone to any reasonable strategy to getting the majority back,” said University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic state representative.
In another notable Senate primary, former Republican incumbent Van Wanggaard cruised to victory over Jonathan Steitz in a GOP primary in southeastern Wisconsin’s 21st Senate District.
Wanggaard, of Racine, narrowly lost to Democrat John Lehman in a 2012 recall spurred by anger over Walker’s law stripping public sector unions of most power. Lehman decided not to seek re-election this year, choosing instead to run for lieutenant governor.
Wanggaard seized the opportunity to get his old job back, besting Steitz by more than a two-to-one margin. Wanggaard will advance to face Democrat Randy Bryce, a Racine ironworker, in November. Lehman decided to retire at the end of his term in December and mount a bid for lieutenant governor, leaving the seat up for grabs.
“We’re happy with the results tonight,” Wanggaard campaign manager Kyle Koenen said. “It proves that spreading a positive message of Van’s proven, trusted conservative record resonated with the voters in the 21st District.”
Meanwhile in southern Wisconsin’s 15th Senate District, state Rep. Janis Ringhand edged Austin Scieszinski for the Democratic nomination. She’ll face Republican Brian Fitzgerald in November.